The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Kumble's 400 and Aussie fightback
- FIRST TEST - Dashing debutant Michael Clarke's personal coach has Indian connection

Bangalore: The opening day of an icon series, to borrow an Adam Gilchrist phrase, didn't produce edge-of-seat stuff. However, it proved Australia are vulnerable but, equally, haven't lost character and are resilient.

At stumps on Wednesday, Australia were 316 for five, having recovered from 149 for four thanks chiefly to Simon Katich (who has Allan Border-like traits) and pin-up debutant Michael Clarke.

Gilchrist, the stand-in captain, chipped in too and Australia are set to at least make good use of the best conditions at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. The wicket, after all, is probably going to deteriorate faster than Shoaib Akhtar's quickest.

It's still early in the game, but winning the toss could eventually make a huge difference for Australia.

'Initially, I was nervous... Very nervous... After a few overs, though, I settled down and succeeded in spending time (170 minutes) at the crease,' Clarke, who will resume on a superb 76, remarked.

Katich fell 19 short of his second century against India in successive Tests, but young Clarke ' who used his feet beautifully ' is keeping 'fingers crossed' on joining the 16 Australians in the centurion-on-debut club.

By the way, Clarke's personal coach Neil D'Costa, whose mother is from Goa, was among the around 25,000 who watched the TVS-sponsored series get underway. He was, of course, thrilled: 'Michael batted so well... What else do I say' I've been working with him from the time he was seven...'

If Clarke was looking for inspiration, even before Messrs Steve Bucknor and Billy Bowden stepped on to the turf, that came when the most capped player in the tour party, Shane Warne, presented him the Baggy Green.

Perhaps never before ' certainly not since John Buchanan has been the coach ' have the Australians prepared as meticulously and, clearly, lessons have been learnt from the 2000-01 defeat.

For one, they allowed themselves to be 'dictated' by an unusually slow wicket and didn't seek to set the agenda by sheer aggression. In fact, the first hour produced as few as 30 runs.

Then, an effort was made to play Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh sensibly rather than impulsively. And, yes, the sweep was often employed. Well, it probably had to be.

Finally, after pulling back from the precipice, acceleration became the last session's mantra. If the first two belonged to India, the final session ' 139 runs for the loss of one wicket ' was very much Australia's.

'I wouldn't read a lot into the first 90 overs, but both teams responded well to the changing situation... Given the wicket, the batsmen faced a problem. Also, early on, the bowlers didn't give anything away,' former Australian opener Michael Slater told The Telegraph.

India's last Test (Rawalpindi) was six months ago, but Sourav Ganguly's men showed no trace of rust. Indeed, Irfan Pathan (making his first appearance at home) was all fire and absolutely controlled was Zaheer Khan.

The breakthrough came from Harbhajan, playing his first Test in ten months, who evicted Matthew Hayden for 26. Australia, however, fought back via 74 runs between Justin Langer and Katich.

Langer, who wore a black arm-band in memory of one-time Australian player Ken Meuleman, a Western Australia great with a big influence on his career, next went for 52, bowled by a Pathan beauty.

And, with Damien Martyn (bat-pad off Kumble) and vice-captain Darren Lehmann ' who ought to have acted responsibly after a let-off on duck ' falling in quick succession, the pressure was all on Australia.

Katich, though, refused to join that embarrassing procession and found an enthusiastic partner in Clarke. They were unseparated till 256 (80th over) when Katich, attempting to pull, became Kumble's 400th victim.

His 81 (246 minutes, 168 deliveries, 8x4) followed handsome scores of 125 and 77 not out at the SCG, in January.

While Clarke continued to impress, both with his temperament and shot-selection, Gilchrist did his bit to ensure the sixth wicket wasn't lost.

The second new ball is a mere four overs old and, so, Sourav is going to bank on Pathan and Zaheer for an early end to a threatening sixth-wicket partnership.

Yet, there's always the risk of runs flowing fast...

Opting for a 2-2 attack, and Sachin Tendulkar absent, Sourav had to fall back on part-timers Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh to turn their arm over. A third specialist spinner, in Murali Kartik, may have made it easier.

Incidentally, Harbhajan did get the stick, but has it in him to retaliate.

'Bigger role' awaits Sunny

Meanwhile, Ranbir Singh Mahendra, technically the Board's president-elect, has confirmed 'a bigger role' awaits Sunil Gavaskar. Since Monday night, he has been the Team India consultant.

Mahendra, however, avoided a direct answer to whether coach John Wright had been consulted on Gavaskar's appointment. 'The team management wanted him,' is all that he repeated.

The president-elect spent some time with the Souravs during the lunch break.

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